Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Impact of a Role Model

Our struggles in this country have left us desperate for a hero; and that’s just the adults, imagine how the kids feel.

In my sophomore year of high school I decided to join the high school football team.  At 99 pounds I was the smallest guy on the team, which was a problem because I was part of a very strong and experienced team; practices were tough.  I will be the first to admit it, I was scared to hit, and be hit by most of these guys, and it showed.  I was picked on and bullied often because of this.  I was a tough case I think for my parents and my teachers.  In a time when teenage suicide was on the rise because of bullying, I was probably one of the most likely to become a statistic.  Despite the desecration and mistreatment from some of the other players, I still loved being part of something that was bigger than me, but there were times when I almost quit…Thank God for my coach.  I went to him one day in the locker room after being bullied and told him about my intentions to quit.  He turned quickly and pulled me into the film room so the other guys wouldn’t see my tears and hear my grievance.  He convinced me to be mentally tough and not to quit, not letting them win, I might get bullied, and I might get hurt, but at least I would have my heart.  I was not a star player, I barely played at all.  I was surprised by my coach’s quick reaction.  He really seemed surprised, and disappointed that the thought of quitting had crossed my mind.  He saw something in me that I was not mature enough yet to see myself.  If he had let me walk out of that locker room a quitter there is no doubt in my mind that I would have been bullied more and in the end become a very morbid statistic.  He really saved my life that day of my junior year.

During the week of the state championship, I was hospitalized with dehydration pneumonia and a 106 degree temperature.  The morning of the state championship I was released from the hospital.  I still had a 104 degree fever, but I felt somewhat recharged.  I listened intently on the radio and reacted very emotionally when the other team had recovered its own kickoff and ran in it into our end zone uncontested.  “DANG NABBIT!!!”  “Mom, Dad if we leave now we can make it there by half time!!”  “No way Michael!!” They replied in unison.  “You still have a dangerous fever and I am considering taking you back to the hospital!”  I reacted as a typical emotional teenager, and got up and started doing jumping jacks.  “I’m fine Mom. I’ve got to get up there, it’s the state championship!”  “It’s my body, I’ll take the risk!”  I yelled.  “Well, we won’t!” she replied.  “Now, stop it, lay down or I’m turning off the radio!”  My mom started to cry; I couldn’t stand seeing her cry so fists clenched, and frustrated I sat down.  This was it; I saw now what coach saw in me; an emotional desire to do the right thing, to not let people down, a sense of family and camaraderie, a passion and enthusiasm about the people and things I cared about.  I was the guy that screamed and yelled and cheered, jumping up and down the sidelines keeping up excitement and emotion.  It probably annoyed coach when he called out the plays, but he tolerated it anyway.  A lot of my teammates told me the game had a much different feel, and lack of something because I wasn’t there, some of them believed that was why the state championship was our first loss that year.  I don’t believe that, because, as I said, I didn’t get to actually play unless we were ahead by 3 touchdowns, but belief can be a powerful thing.

I had a hero, a coach that never gave up on me; I wasn’t going to disappoint him again.  I used the off season to gain weight, get fast, and get strong.  My senior year there were still guys that didn’t like me because of my weakness and fear before, but now they respected me.  I still didn’t play much, but I made practice count.  I loved my team and what it stood for.  I made it my mission to work hard and make my teammates better.  I was proud of myself for who I had become, and I owe that to my coach who showed he cared about my decisions, who loved all his players regardless of their talent as his own sons.  At the end of my senior year coach gave me a huge trophy that read “Most Improved Senior”; only 6 guys on the team got individual trophies like that.

After I graduated, I joined the Navy. On September 11th 2001 bullies killed about 3000 of my countrymen.  Some of the bravest men I will ever know looked to me for leadership and courage.  I went to war, and came back alive.   I deal with some PTSD and anxiety disorders. I have a lot of military medals and commendations collected over the years.  Those are collecting dust in a drawer somewhere, but that trophy coach gave me sits right here on my desk. Beside it is a picture of my buddies from the navy to remind me of who I am and what I want to continue being when I have an anxiety attack, nightmare, or guilt.

Try hard to see the potential in your kids.  No matter how much they may disappoint you, or how much fear they have in their heart, never give up on them.  You will save their life, just by listening to them and loving them.  Make sure anger and frustration with thier mistakes, bring out your compassion for them.

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